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U.S. Drone Matrices as a Result of Ineptitude and Capital (Fall 2013, PoliSci 102)


On May 22, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Chairman of the Committee of the Judiciary, Congressman Patrick J. Leahly (D-VT), releasing the names of four American citizens that were exterminated by a United States via an armed unmanned aerial aircraft: a “predator” drone. Anwar al-Aulaqi was the target of United States military “counterterrorism operations outside of areas of active hostilities,” as Attorney General Holder described it, and had been affiliated with al-Qa’ida, which justified the drone attack. However, there were three other American citizens who were not the “specific target” that were killed as well. Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aluaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed were the three unfortunate victims of the United States’ drone policy. The interesting and controversial usage of these drones raises the question of the writ of habeas corpus; did the U.S. have the Constitutional authority to kill one American citizen as a target and three as “collateral damage” without bringing them to a judge or jury? This is just one of many examples of how U.S. foreign drone policy affects the entire world.

The United States has been using drones in Afghanistan as early as 2000; it was not until 2002 that the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) used a drone to kill American enemies. According to The Nation, the target specified in this sensitive attack was Osama bin Laden, and this attack was the first time that a drone had been used in a C.I.A. operation vice military support. Once the C.I.A. had realized that their target was not Osama bin Laden, they claimed that they did not know who it was. This raises the question of predator drone legitimacy due to the fact that the individual that was targeted in the attack was unidentified. Journalists pursued the story and indentified the individuals that were killed. The man killed, Daraz Khan, was 5’11” — taller than the average Afghanistan citizen — and was collecting bomb fragments from an American bomb strike, which is the reason why he was targeted. One question civil rights activists ask is whether the allegation of height was great enough to kill a man; as John Sifton, journalist for The Nation, puts it, “I am also 5 feet 11, and at around the same time period I spent time foraging for bomb fragments in remote locations in Afghanistan… Perhaps I could have been mistaken for bin Laden too.” This is just one example of U.S. drone policies before President Obama took office. Drone strikes did not necessarily become an international debate until around 2009, when the president took office.

President Obama took office in the middle of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and as of 2012, authorized 283 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. According to Peter Bergen, a National Security Analyst for CNN, this is six times more than the total amount of drone strikes used during George W. Bush’s entire presidency; he says that the death toll, including civilians, ranges anywhere from 1,494 to 2,618. The bottom line is, no one is really sure how many have died due to these strikes, which begs to question how the strikes are decided in the first place. The decision to strike is based off of a policy called the “disposition matrix.” Greg Miller from the Washington Post reports that the matrix includes a list of targets, the resources being used to track them down to include “sealed indictments and clandestine operations.” Many people are split on this policy, and the controversy has created a sharp divide in opinion.

Opponents of this matrix claim that we cannot simply kill people based off of the fact that they do not pose an immediate threat. Proponents claim that the security of the United States is at stake if we do not eliminate potential terrorists. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the members of Congress who has greatly supported the drone policy in the U.S., he has stated, “We’ve killed 4,700. Sometimes you hit innocent people, and I hate that, but we’re at war, and we’ve taken some very senior members of al-Qai’da.” What Senator Graham does not take into account is that the drone strikes that kill the most people have been in countries we are not at war with: Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Many supporters in the U.S. use the “we are at war” claim throughout the media, government, and American people, and this seems to be the “bottom line” as far as support goes. Israel and the U.S. support the drone strikes at 64% and 61% approval rating respectively. There are not many concrete international supporters of this policy by any country due to the high amount of human rights violated by these “matrix” strikes. The opponents greatly outweigh proponents on a global scale. Russia, arguably America’s greatest competitor for world power, disapproves of the United States policy on drones at 68%. Venezuela, Greece, and Egypt top the disapproval rating at 91%, and 89%, respectively. This is particularly interesting due to Venezuela’s anti-American foreign policy sentiment and the country’s involvement in our political atmosphere, and all three of those countries do not approve of much of what the U.S. does internationally.

The “bottom line” in the opposition of this global disapproval is the absence of the writ of habeas corpus. The Constitution of the United States defines habeas corpus as the right to be brought before a judge and jury. The way Khan and the others were killed displayed the loss of a jury – arguably, the most important aspect of the judiciary system. In America, the jury has the right to nullify a law if it is immoral or wrongly applied. If Khan was an American citizen charged with collecting debris, a jury has the power to nullify the charges which it believes are wrong. Since collecting debris is a victimless crime, Khan would not have been charged under jury nullification. Khan did not get that right when he was arbitrarily exterminated in his own country, and neither did the others that were killed. However, Khan was not an American citizen, and many claim that he did not deserve a jury simply because he is not American. “The Constitution does not apply in this case,” many Americans bring up this point, but that does not include the four individuals that the American government admitted to killing. Where was their jury? Why did they not get the opportunity to sit in front of a jury of their peers and have their case heard? The problem with these drone strikes is the use of violence against people who do not necessarily deserve it.

As long as we are at war, there will always be justification for unnecessary violence, and the solution to this violent problem is the absence of the use of force. American citizens need to come together to stop this violence across the globe. We should not allow the extermination of anyone, whether they are American citizens or not. It often seems that the leaders who always to believe we are always in grave danger seem to push pro-drone agendas on us via the media. I always feel like our country as a whole is under constant fear of being attacked. When a child lives in a home and feels like they are going to be attacked all of the time, what does that say about the parents? The parents are most likely creating an environment which the child feels afraid of by the actions that the parent takes. In this case, the American government (parents) always says that “we need to make America safer,” and the American people (children) look to the government for security. With the perpetual drone strikes on nations that we are not at war with, the view of America being a great place becomes smaller and smaller by the citizens of those countries. The anti-American sentiment often times has to do with the government’s decisions in their foreign policies; therefore the government is creating a hostile world for Americans to live in. It is ironic because we constantly look to the government for security, to protect us against bad people, but a lot of those bad people are the same ones who say that they are trying to protect us! This is a contradiction I will never understand. We are not making American safer by killing thousands of people in other countries who did not even attack us and we are not even at war with. We should be using drones to better the free market and the individual, not harm others.

In conclusion, although drones are used for horrific acts of war, drones are not all negative killing machines. Some of them allow journalists to capture the stories that they would not have been able to get without it. Nature documentaries use them to capture never before seen footage of the animals we share the world with. They can be used to provide readings on air quality. Maybe companies can use drones to deliver a package, which means that they can be used to carry medical supplies to people who find themselves in an emergency as well. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to be in the world.” America wants nations to be peaceful and open to trade, but we should not use predator drones to bomb the people who we think are going to hurt us. There is danger everywhere in life, and the best way to keep danger out of America is by treating others the way we want to be treated. It is time to stop bombing other countries with drones, and time to start trading with countries using drones.

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